A Travellerspoint blog

From Swapkomund to Capetown

August 1st to 5th, 2010

After our two day stay in Swapkomund, we headed south towards Sossusvlei which both Chris and I were very much looking forward to experiencing. This area is known for its amazing sand dunes which are up to 1000 feet high and cover a vast area in Namibia. These dunes are often photographed. The first part of our journey continued through open, sandy desert. Most of our travel mates slept, as always, through the morning hours, but everyone perked up when we began to drive through very interesting and beautiful rocky mountainous terrain. This landscape lasted until we reached the Tropic of Capricorn at which time we took the opportunity to take a group photo. It was amazing to think that in our African trip we had started in Kenya crossing the equator and here we were at the Tropic of Capricorn. I had never been been physically at the Tropic of Capricorn before. 110_0132.jpg
Scenery Along the Way

Our Gap Group at The Tropic of Capricorn

Mid-afternoon we arrived at a campground which was a bit disappointing for Dana as we did not see any of the large sand dunes that we had been expecting. Unbeknownst to us, the sand dunes were about 45 kms away, which was not an issue except that there was no trip planned there until the next morning. Dana was once again, a bit bent out of shape with this reality and we decided instead of engaging in the usual sit around the campsite and socializing routine to head off to some hills that were nearby. As we climbed, we did find some small sand dunes which were welcome and helped a bit to dampen Dana’s disappointment of having to wait till the next morning.

Dunes near the Campground

Dunes near the Campground

Very early next morning before sunrise we all prepared to leave for the 45 km journey into the main sand dune area. Near our campsite was the gate to this area which is opened early in the morning and closed in the evening. Literally busloads of people were lining up at the gate that morning. Our driver, managed to slip in second place, but as we later found out that we were all heading to the same destination, Dune 45 which is the dune that is traditionally is climbed to watch sunrise.

So we commenced out climb up the edge of Dune 45 which was probably 400 to 500 ft. Climbing sand dunes is quite an art. We had to walk on the ridge which led from the base to the peak, placing our feet in the previous person’s footsteps. There were somewhere around several hundred people climbing that morning which for Dana was yet another disappointment. Luckily, it was quite a climb as it meant people were a bit quieter than they likely would have been otherwise. Dana wasn’t to know that later on that day we would be able to spend hours in the afternoon in the dunes by ourselves, without another person anywhere near. The sunrise itself was not spectacular, but to see the dunes at sunrise was gorgeous. Going down was a heck of a lot easier than going up as we ran down the ridge on the east side of the dune in just a few minutes. Before long we were back in the parking lot, eating breakfast with the rest of our group.

Dune 45

The next activity was further on, going to the heart of Sossusvlei, where we met “Bushman” who was a very enthusiastic and highly knowledgeable guide to this area. When he walked, he almost ran. Maybe part of it was that he walked in bare feet and had to keep moving fast as the sand was hot even in the morning. We discovered, through him how much life is underneath the sand surface and in fact rain is an enemy to this ecosystem. It was amazing. The centre piece to Sossusvlei is a large salt pan which is thousands of years old and there are very old striking dead trees still standing in this pan. It was gorgeous to photograph, only one problem, too many people wandering around endlessly where Dana wanted to photograph. It was a frustrating business, especially when we discovered that we only had about half an hour to explore this area, before we had to head back to the pick up truck which had brought us into this area. The roads were not navigable for ordinary vehicles or buses. Sadly our things, including extra water were back in the bus so we had not choice to but to leave. On that trip back we talked to Bushman and asked him if there were any areas that Chris and I could explore on our own that afternoon. We had had the foresight to organize with park to hitch a ride with the last park vehicle leaving the area at 5pm. We said goodbye to everyone on our bus at about 10am and then had a rest and lunch under a scraggly tree which provided a tiny bit of shade. It was already very hot. We had a 5 liter bottle of water with us.

Desert Critters

Salt Pan of Sosussvlei

So rested we headed off with Chris’s good navigational skills to the “Body Dunes” area that Bushman told us about. It was not so far away, we probably reached it in about half an hour’s walking. We wandered around the body dunes for the next three or four hours totally enchanted with Dana taking many photographs of the sand ripples and the softly curved of the dunes. It was the soft curves that gave the body dunes their name as they commonly resembled parts of the human body. Both of us were captivated by the beauty and solitude of the area.

"Body Dunes"

In places we saw footprints of small animals and of insects and occasionally we actually saw beetles running up and down the sides of the dunes. At about 4pm we started to head back to the parking lot to be in good time for our ride back to the campground. Just near the parking lost was an oryx who was just standing there, gorgeous set against late afternoon dunescape. It was a treat to see the oryx so closely and to be standing on the same earth as him.


We arrived back to the parking lot just as the last bus was leaving, but that was no concern as we knew we would get a ride with the park in a smaller vehicle. We waited and waited and no park vehicle showed. There were a couple of vehicles who drove by having left Sossusvlei and then one stopped in the parking lot to inflate his tires to a normal pressure. He had softened them to drive through the sand. We decided to ask them if we could get a ride as we were worried that there was no ride coming and neither of us wanted to spend the night there. Luckily he and his wife agreed to give us a ride and we had a rather quick trip back as we were racing to get back before the park gate closed. We found out that they had been the last car to leave the salt pan, so we were indeed lucky that they had stopped in the parking lot.

We arrived at the gate just as it was about to close which was a big relief for the driver and us. We said goodbye to our kind companions and headed straight for the restaurant for a cold drink. We then found out campsite and they were quite happy we were back safely as they didn’t know why we were so late. It had been a very adventurous day and one that we both will remember happily.

Early the next morning we headed out on the next leg of our journey, our destination was the Fish River Canyon, well known as the second largest canyon in Africa and one that Chris was keen on exploring later in the trip. The landscape was stark with relatively low flat-topped hills and wide open valley floors that the road followed. Andre, our tour guide, thought the trip was going to take most of the day, but amazingly enough we arrive at the Fish River Canyon in the early afternoon. Sometimes we wondered about how Andre could be so off in her timing! We were delighted about we thought this would mean we could spend a longer time admiring the canyon which was situated about ten kilometers from the campsite. Imagine Dana’s consternation, when we discovered that we would not be leaving the campsite until 5pm which would give us only a short time at the canyon before night fall. We asked Andre if it would be OK for us to go by ourselves right away and she was not in agreement. Disappointed and angry we walked over to some small low cliffs overlooking a stream bed near the campground. It helped lighten our mood. When we returned to the campground we found out that Andre agreed to leave the campground half an hour before she had originally said.

So we all took off the canyon and walked along it’s edge for about half a mile. Because it was so late the bottom was in deep shadow and most of our companions like us were frustrated, because of the poor conditions for both actually seeing or photographing the canyon which was a beautiful sight. Dana and I sat on the edge of the canyon taking in the quiet and the majestic beauty of it, while everyone else gathered back at the bus. It was good to have this time to just experience being there.

Fish River Canyon

After supper, Andre sensing people’s discontent, asked how people were feeling. And for the first time on the trip, most people voiced frustration with how aspects of the trip differed from their expectations. It felt good to hear that we were not the only people who had hoped that our time would have been spent on activities that allowed us to experience Africa more fully. But it was a pity because it came so late.

The next morning we packed up and headed off to the Orange River, which in it’s lower reaches, forms the border between Namibia and South Africa. Our border crossing from Namibia into South Africa was remarkably easy and swift. We were impressed by the friendliness of the border staff on both sides. We arrived at our new campsite in the early afternoon, set up our tents in a small area allocated to our group and then Chris and I headed to the river for a swim. Soon after we finished swimming the whole group went up river and got into rubber two person dinghies and started paddling downstream. This was fun and we saw lots of birds, the most notable was a Goliath Heron which was perched on tree very precariously for it’s huge size. These birds are almost two meters tall and absolutely stunningly beautiful. Sadly, Dana did not have her camera, as it was a bit risky to have a camera on the trip down the river. Everyone seemed to enjoy themselves. In places there were little runs of fast water, so we had to cross these carefully. It was very pretty landscape. At one place we stopped for a swim which was so refreshing.

We ended up back at the campground and watched the sunset on the Orange River.

The Orange River

This was to be our last night of camping on this trip as we would be in Cape Town early next evening staying at a hotel in the central area. The trip from the border to Cape Town included a variety of scenery, gradually becoming more agricultural as we headed south. We pass right by the town that Dana would later be staying in for her week photographic workshop in the area known as Namaqualand. It certainly was a gorgeous area, a mountainous semi-desert. We were certainly feeling some relief of this trip being over and were looking forward to travelling on our own once again and not moving around in a group of 22 people. There was one last dinner together at a restaurant in central Capetown to round off the trip, followed by the night at the hotel and a farewell breakfast the next morning. I think we were the only ones who had not signed up for the wine tour that next day preferring to climb up to Table Mountain which overlooks Cape Town. The last time Chris had done that he was ten years old. We will continue our trip to Table Mountain and beyond in our next entry.

Posted by danjali 14:36

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